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Sri Lankan Spices

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11 April 2018

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Spices enhance the colour, fragrance and flavour of food. In addition many of them also have many health benefits. Used in the right combination, spices can turn the simplest food into an aromatic and rich experience in the world of cooking. Of course, used incorrectly, if the wrong spices are combined, they will make food taste terrible and bitter. Hence care and knowledge is important for the successful use of spices. Sri Lanka boasts a diverse range of regional cuisines where varying spices and ingredients are used. Indeed, the basis of all dishes is the Kulubadu (which means “spice” in Sinhala). The richness, the layers of bright, full-bodied and powerful flavors that a medley of spices brings is unbelievable. The ratio of each spice in curry mix is tailored to one’s taste: it can be blended to evoke balance, or to enhance and emphasize particular flavors. Here are a few interesting things to know when cooking with spices

 

Turmeric (Kaha)

Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its characteristic yellow hue. It is loved for its potent antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  The chemical compound curcumin is present in turmeric, which lends this spice its medicinal powers. Studies have shown that curcumin can suppress inflammatory molecules and stimulates one’s antioxidant enzyme capacity. Many Sri Lankan spread turmeric water when opening their stores front in the morning to get blessed from god and the protection from bacteria

 

Pepper (Gam Miris)

What really gives Sri Lankan dishes that “spicy”  hot? None other than the  pepper. Pepper generally refers to black, white and green pepper. Black pepper is the unripe fruit of the pepper plant, Piper nigrum, cooked and dried. Green pepper refers to the dried, but uncooked, unripe fruit of the pepper plant. White pepper, on the other hand, is the seeds from ripe pepper fruits. Pepper is the spice that is most commonly traded in the world.It is used for its strong aroma and for its spiciness as a chilli replacement. In addition to its use as a spice it has medical purposes and is also used for massages (pepper oil). Pepper is native to South and Southeast Asia.

 

Cloves (Karambunatti)

This flavourful spice is known for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, being used in various forms of ancient medicine. It is filled with nutrients, aiding digestion and reducing inflammation. (In fact, my mother swears by cloves as a means of curing tooth infections.) Did you know that cloves were transported in the 13 and 14th century to China, India and many more places? It’s no surprise that the spice is a culinary basis in Indian cuisine.

 

Cardamom (Enasal)

Cardamom is found in either black or green varieties. They come from the same plant family but are processed differently: green cardamom is taken whole and harvested before reaching maturity, while black cardamom seeds are extracted and dried. Generally, green cardamom is preferable to flavour sweet dishes and black cardamom is preferable to impart a stronger, deeper flavour.

This powerful spice is also known to help reduce blood pressure, improve breathing (by relaxing airways), and aid digestion.

 

Cinnamon(Kurundu)

Ah, there is nothing quite like the aroma of cinnamon. Its use can be raced back to Ancient Egypt, and its medicinal properties have been valued for centuries. What’s at the heart of the health benefits and soothing scent of cinnamon? Cinnamaldehyde: an active compound that is responsible for cinnamon’s potent health benefits. This particular compound has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon is also believed to aid in controlling sugar levels by reducing one’s resistance to insulin (a hormone integral to regulating blood sugar as well as energy levels and metabolism)

 

Curry Leaves (Karapincha)

The Curry Tree (binomial name: Murraya koenigii) is a tropical tree native to India and Sri Lanka. Its fragrant leaves are called curry leaves as they are popular for spicing up curries. They are mostly used as seasoning in the cooking of Sri Lanka, India and their neighbouring countries. Curry leaves have many medicinal properties including being anti-diabetic.